An Arctic air mass is bringing the coldest temperatures of the season to Wichita on Sunday – and the lowest temperatures in decades to other areas of the United States, weather officials warn.
The opening round of winter’s onslaught on Wichita and Kansas arrived Saturday, when a fresh blanket of snow fell.
“We’re going to drop below zero here” in Wichita on Sunday night, AccuWeather meteorologist Cory Mottice said.
That would surpass the lowest temperature of the season so far, which is the 4 degrees logged twice shortly before Christmas. It would also be the first time in three years temperatures fell below zero in Wichita.
Lows dropped to 9 degrees below zero on Feb. 9, 2011, and 17 below the next day.
An inch or 2 of snow could force temperatures over the next couple of days even lower than projected, forecasters said.
In Wichita, snowfall began about 9 p.m. Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. It was expected to wrap up early Sunday morning.
“That’s why we’ve been trending downwards” with temperature forecasts as the likelihood of accumulating snow increased, said Vanessa Pearce, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita.
Snow cover played a major role in the cold air mass that will slide as far south as the Gulf Coast, Mottice said. Record lows are predicted in many eastern and southern states, with some forecasters saying anyone younger than 40 isn’t likely to have experienced such temperatures.
“This time of year there’s hardly any sun” in the Arctic, “so it just keeps getting colder and colder,” Mottice said.
Snow cover reflects much of the sun’s heat back into the atmosphere, he said, preventing temperatures from rising much. Westerly winds that typically keep the worst of the cold from much of the U.S. have weakened, allowing that harshly cold polar air to plunge southward into the Great Plains and as far as the Deep South.
The playoff game in Green Bay, Wis., on Sunday between the Packers and San Francisco 49ers is poised to be among the coldest NFL games ever played.
Temperatures at Lambeau Field are expected to be around 2 degrees below zero at kickoff, according to the National Weather Service. By the fourth quarter, the temperature is expected to fall to 7 below, and the wind chills are likely to approach 30 below.
By comparison, the storied Ice Bowl playoff game between the Packers and Dallas Cowboys in 1967 had a temperature of 13 degrees below zero and a wind chill of 36 below. The 1982 AFC Championship Game in Cincinnati between the Bengals and the San Diego Chargers, dubbed the Freezer Bowl, was played in conditions that included a temperature of 6 below and a wind chill of 32 below.
Minnesota called off school for Monday statewide – the first such closing in 17 years – because of projected highs in the minus teens and lows as cold as 30 below. In Wisconsin, students in Milwaukee and Madison won’t be in class on Monday, either.
North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple urged superintendents to keep the safety of children in mind when deciding whether to hold classes after the state forecast called for “life-threatening wind chills” through Tuesday morning.
State officials in Kentucky were urging residents to stay inside and off the roads, and schools in Nashville, Tenn., will extend their winter break until Wednesday – a day longer than normal – because of the wintry conditions.
Wind chills in the Wichita area will drop well below zero on Sunday, Mottice said, with negative double digits likely. On Monday, Pearce said, those wind chills could fall to between 15 below and 20 below.
Highs Sunday and Monday in Wichita will struggle to crawl out of the midteens, forecasters say, which would make them the coldest days of the season so far.
But Wichita should climb out of the deep freeze by midweek, with highs reaching the mid- to upper 30s.
Contributing: Amy Renee Leiker of The Eagle, Reuters, Associated Press